What Starbucks Can Teach Us About Altruism

Curtis Farr | OnFaith Voices By on

Some of the predictably ridiculous voices in our world are calling Starbucks’ plain red seasonal cups a shot across the bough for this year’s imaginary “War on Christmas.” And to be fair to these attention-seeking opinion creators, there has been and will likely continue to be a growing trend among secular businesses who want to be celebratory of major holidays without excluding those who do not celebrate. Essentially, they are making their consumer-motivated celebration appear ever-so-slightly more secular in order to share the season with everyone.

Who would have imagined that secularism might positively influence altruism?

Answer: researchers at the University of Chicago.

Researchers found that children with a religious upbringing — especially Christians and Muslims — are less likely to share with others and are more likely to favor punishment for those exhibiting anti-social behavior compared to their non-religious counterparts. They are less likely to be altruistic.

While they determined no explanation for the correlation, the finding that altruism is not positively correlated with religiosity, though not entirely surprising, is discouraging.

Mark Twain might just have been right when he penned that, “If Christ were here there is one thing he would not be — a Christian.” After all, Jesus is the one who constantly makes a point of instructing his followers to engage in the works of mercy: feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, care for the sick, and visit the imprisoned. Too often, churches relegate such activities to “outreach,” a line item accounting for 10 percent or less in many church budgets. By such an appraisal, churches are failing to be followers of Jesus — they are failing to be Christian.

On the other hand, a church (or community of Christians), is not limited to the purview of a social service agency. Good churches engage in the works of mercy in the obvious ways, but also in some not-so-obvious ways:

  • In feeding those who hunger for an environment in which they can make meaning . . .
  • In offering refreshment for minds and souls bombarded by the demands of the world . . .
  • In fostering a hospitable space for anyone who chooses to approach . . . some do this better than others . . .
  • In clothing people with relational care and prayer and a sense of belonging . . .
  • In visiting the hospitalized and homebound in order to make their place in church clear . . .
  • In reminding those who feel imprisoned by the circumstances of their lives that they, in fact, are not alone . . .

A church that strives to do these things is part of the Jesus Movement.

The weekly gathering of the Jesus Movement operates as a point of connection for people with diverse beliefs, backgrounds, traumas, and joys. The weekly gathering of the Jesus Movement is meant to both refresh souls and inspire engagement in the works of mercy every other day of the week.

The Jesus Movement, like Apple or Starbucks, galvanizes a way of life. While Apple desires that we center our communication and entertainment around devices that travel with us, and Starbucks wants us to have obnoxiously loud conversations over red cups of over-priced, caffeinated syrup, Jesus moves us to care for each other while working on ourselves and the unjust systems of the world in order that all might experience the fullness of this life.

Maybe Christian children are less likely to share than their non-religious counterparts, but the Jesus Movement is characterized by altruism, and even those who have a hard time sharing are still welcome to learn and grow with us.

Image courtesy of pio3 / Shutterstock.com.

OnFaith Voices is a series of perspectives about faith.